8 Questions You Should Ask Before Purchasing Cheap Meal Replacement Shakes

Last Updated 30th July 2019
woman looking concerned

When it comes to your health and wellbeing, common sense says that there should be no compromise – after all, what matters more than your body and mind? Yet, as society turns more and more toward a ‘body ideal’ and new products and services promising such pop up on what seems like a daily basis, it’s difficult to know where best to turn your focus… and your finances.

Meal replacement shakes are a longstanding, well-established nutritional product that has wielded fantastic results for millions of people worldwide. However, the industry has grown exponentially since the advent of e-commerce, meaning the range of meal replacement shakes available to purchase is huge. With this, comes a wide variety of product types, niches and price points to choose from.

The latter is a very important consideration for the majority of consumers, but does the price really reflect the quality of the ingredients within? When you’re consuming something that you intend to impact on your health, it’s imperative to ensure that what you’re consuming is of the highest possible quality. But is this achievable with a budget blend? We investigate:

woman researching cheap meal replacement shake products and ingredients

1. Is the Formula Natural?

The word ‘natural’ can be somewhat ambiguous when used on packaging to describe products – and that goes for everything, from beverages to beauty treatments.

For a product to be labelled as ‘natural’, the ingredients within the product must have originated naturally and the product should contain no artificial ingredients or additives. The product also needs to have undergone minimal processing. However, this statement is rather vague so it is difficult to determine the true meaning of ‘natural’.

But why does it matter if a product is natural or not? It does sound a bit icky to consume something that was man-made and didn’t grow naturally, but the real concern comes with the fact that many artificial ingredients come with health concerns. Several artificial ingredients, such as artificial sweeteners, have been linked to cancer. For example, a study on rats concluded that high exposure to aspartame can cause various types of cancer including leukemia and lymphoma.

What’s most concerning is that artificial ingredients have been used for many years but it is only now that we are starting to question their safety. The issue is that these chemicals are developed by humans and long-term effects are yet to be tested. Therefore, as a general rule, it is safer to avoid artificial ingredients altogether and, instead, look for natural products.

Woman holding 4 tomatoes

When looking for the right meal replacement shake for you, it’s likely you’ll find that natural products cost more than those with synthetic ingredients. It costs more money to purchase natural goods and to minimally process them than it does to create them from scratch (or buy them created to then include).

In terms of user experience, there are notable differences between natural and artificial products. Artificial sweeteners can more easily produce sweet-tasting and replicated food flavourings than their natural counterparts. It’s also far easier to thicken a meal replacement shake with specific artificial additives than it is using ingredients that have been minimally processed. Therefore a natural meal replacement shake may not have as smooth or thick a texture as an artificial one.

If you’re conscious of the nature of what you consume, then a natural product would be the next best thing after an organic one (don’t worry – we will discuss the importance of organic in a moment). It’s the middle ground, really, between an all-organic and non-processed meal replacement shake and a fully artificially enhanced one.

Natural meal replacement shakes are likely to be more expensive than cheap meal replacement shakes. However, the health benefits of natural seem to far outweigh the larger price-tag.

colourful vegan meal replacement smoothie bowl

2. Are the Ingredients Organic?

If you’re already consuming an entirely organic diet, then purchasing organic meal replacement shakes is a no-brainer. But as with all organic food and drink, the price point isn’t usually as cheap as the alternatives. Organic shakes are often more expensive than natural meal replacement shakes as organic is a step further in terms of a clean, safe formula.

The term organic means that the product has been approved to contain ingredients which have been grown in-line with organic practices. Simply put, they’ve been grown without the use of artificial chemicals such as pesticides, herbicides and artificial fertilisers.

The organic market is rapidly growing, with more and more concerns being raised about artificial chemicals. For example, a study conducted in 2016 suggested that there may be a link in consuming foods which have experienced heavy pesticide use, with premature births.

organic produce for organic meal replacement shakes

Herbicides such as Roundup have been in the news a lot recently from people claiming it has links to cancer. Concerningly, a study was carried out in Canada to review what chemicals were actually on food. Glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup was found on 30% of foods tested! Some foods with the highest quantities were grains such as rice, oats and cereals – common ingredients used in meal replacement shakes.

The presence of glyphosate is not just an issue for Canadians. A study in the UK found that 60% of wholemeal breads tested contained the harmful chemical – a shockingly high figure!

To conclude, organic meal replacement shakes may come with a heftier price-tag than non-organic meal replacement shakes. However, by consuming organic products, you are minimising the risk of contact with chemicals which may be bad for your health. Despite the booming meal replacement shake market, finding an organic blend can be tricky. Fortunately, we’re here to help! All of Nutribuddy’s products are made using as many organic ingredients as possible. The Nutribuddy Breakfast Shake and Nutribuddy High-Protein Sculpting Shake, for instance, are made with 100% organic ingredients.

Nutribuddy Vegan Breakfast Meal Replacement Shake in Jar

3. Is the Shake made from Wholefoods or Vitamin Blends?

Meal replacement shakes are expertly blended to ensure that they’re perfectly nutritionally balanced and contain all the necessary vitamins and minerals the body requires. This is normally done with the inclusion of synthetic ingredients to best replicate the nutritional value that food can provide – without, of course, filling your cup with an actual blended meal.

In meal replacement shakes, artificial blends of vitamins and minerals are often used in order to most easily and efficiently balance the nutritional value of the shake, so that it contains a complete range of the nutrients required by the human body per serving.

Synthetic ingredients included in vitamin blends are a relatively new addition to food. Even today, when most of us have regular exposure to man-made ingredients in our diets, we don’t completely understand these ingredients. So far, research has shown that it’s unclear if these synthetic ingredients are as easily absorbed by the body as natural ingredients. This means that the body takes longer to break down and process such ingredients compared to natural ones. For example, Vitamin E is absorbed twice as effectively in a natural state than in a synthetic one.Furthermore, natural ingredients in the form of wholefoods have a wide range of benefits, such as protection against heart disease and cancer. This is as a result of their complex nutritional profile and abundance of a range of different nutrients. The synthetic alternatives are lacking this complexity as a result of being an extracted form of one single vitamin.

Raspberries on spoons

Studies on artificial vitamin blends such as multivitamins have yielded mixed results. Whilst some studies are positive and claim that vitamin blends can help prevent disease, many studies have contradicted this and yielded results that claim they have no benefit. Shockingly, some studies even suggest they can increase the risk of cancer!

To conclude, if you’re able to afford meal replacement shakes with less processed ingredients, they’re a healthier and more efficient option. Meal replacement shakes without artificial blends included do exist, but there are far fewer companies offering them.

Nutribuddy’s products, however, are made using wholefoods and are completely free from artificial ingredients and blends. Plus, being made with primarily organic ingredients, these shakes are really ticking all the boxes so far!

Vegan Meal Replacement Bundle

4. Does the Shake Contain Allergens?

Food and drink labelling laws mean that producers of consumables must make clear if their products contain any of the thirteen stipulated main allergens. They are:

  • celery and celeriac
  • cereals containing gluten
  • crustaceans
  • eggs
  • fish
  • lupin
  • milk and lactose
  • molluscs
  • mustard
  • nuts
  • peanuts
  • sesame
  • soybeans
  • sulphur dioxide and sulphates.

(Correct at time of writing as dictated by the FSA, Food Standards Agency.)

Allergens gluten wheat field

If you have an allergy or intolerance to any of these ingredients, you’re probably used to scouring labels and seeking out more information on what your food and drink contains. However, when it comes to meal replacement shakes, it’s important to remember that despite not consuming a meal in the way you would usually, allergens may still be present – and are more common than you may have considered!

Budget meal replacement shakes often contain allergens, as the ingredients containing them are cheaper to procure and process than their allergen-free counterparts.

The most common allergens found in meal replacement shakes are soybeans, cereals (especially wheat and oats) and lactose. The latter also impacts on dietary choices such as veganism, so even if you don’t have a food allergy or intolerance, it’s important to read the label.

It’s possible to purchase meal replacement shakes that contain gluten-free oats, but these are not common. However, the Nutribuddy Breakfast Shake is gluten-free, doesn’t contain any allergens and is also vegan.

Girl drinking breakfast meal replacement shake on holiday

5. Does the Shake Contain Laxative Ingredients?

Despite many dietary supplements and weight loss shake products containing laxative ingredients, it’s been proven that the weight loss achieved by such products are negligible. Laxatives primarily result in the loss of just water weight – which contains very little food or calories, but lots of water, electrolytes and crucial minerals.

The consequences of regular laxative usage on personal health can outweigh weight-loss vastly. From disturbing the balance of electrolytes and minerals in the body (which can lead to the failure of major organs), severe dehydration and internal organ damage to the reliance of the colon on such chemicals in order to pass movement, toying with laxatives is dangerous territory.

Laxatives such as Senna leaves (technically a natural product that requires little processing!) are used frequently in meal replacement shakes due to the quick weight-loss they can cause. Water weight is lost rapidly, so consumers feel they’re achieving a fast, tangible result and continue to purchase.

Most meal replacement shake manufacturers won’t stipulate on their ingredients list or in their marketing that their product has laxative effects (and indeed they are not required to say so), so some research may need to be carried out into any listed ingredients that you don’t recognise.

senna leaves are natural laxatives
The senna plant which produces senna leaves – a laxative ingredient

6. Is the Meal Replacement Shake Nutritionally Balanced?

It’s easy to assume that everything within a meal replacement shake is healthy. When you read the names of vitamins and minerals that you know, it’s easy to assume that everything is fine. As with anything in life though, bodies need balance; and the nutrition of a meal, be that one you eat from a plate or drink as a shake, should be well-balanced too.

Whilst the point of meal replacement shakes is to supply the balance you’d expect to receive from the equivalent nourishment a full meal, not all manufactured blends quite manage this. As a rough guide, the ideal macronutrient intake for weight loss and to promote health is approximately 45-65% of calories from carbohydrates, 20-35% calories from fats and 10-35% calories from proteins.

The balance that works best for you may not be what works best for someone else, so be prepared for some trial and error of different blends and products to identify the perfect fit.

woman holding vegan berry meal replacement shake

7. Does the Meal Replacement Shake have a Lengthy and Complicated Ingredients List?

Unless you’re a dietician or food scientist, it’s highly unlikely that you know the chemical names of meal replacement shake ingredients off by heart. Yet ingredients lists aren’t simplified for public understanding on labels or lists, so be prepared to be confronted by them often when browsing for information.

If you find a meal replacement shake that you like the look of which contains very technical sounding ingredients, the best thing you can do is research each of them and ensure they’re balanced in the proper way for your nourishment.

Broadly speaking, the less ingredients there are, and the more familiar you are with them, the better. But in order to reach the nutritional harmony expected of meal replacement shakes, there will need to be several ingredients. If you have an allergy or intolerance, ask your doctor or healthcare professional before consuming anything you don’t understand the name of.

The ideal shake would have no complicated chemical-sounding ingredients, but an easy compromise is for manufacturers to explain what they are and what that means – so a ‘cheat sheet’ to it is to assume that the more honest the company, the better.

Nutribuddy Shake Complete natural ingredient list
Nutribuddy Shake Complete’s minimal ingredient list. Photo by Laura Lucas

8. What Do Customer Reviews Tell Us About Meal Replacement Shakes?

As with any purchases online, it’s beneficial for you to look up customer reviews on meal replacement shakes before you go ahead and buy them.

Caution (and a healthy degree of common sense) should always be taken when reading customer reviews online. Most e-commerce websites, no matter their industry, publish quotes and testimonials from happy customers on their own site; either as quotes across their website or as full reviews. It’s uncommon to find negative, or even constructive, feedback on their sites – but you shouldn’t end your reading there.Google the meal replacement shake you’ve found and seek out reviews on third-party websites over which the brand has no hold. Whilst there always will be the opportunity for businesses to be dishonest and file fake reviews, independent websites are the best at identifying and removing these.

You can look out for some tell-tale signs of false reviews, too. Are they all written in the same way? Are they all dated/timed close together? Do they all use the same turn of phrase? Real reviews and honest content is always preferable – and that includes non-gifted or sponsored ads with influencers.

Vegan meal replacement shake review
Testimonial from one of Nutribuddy’s customers, @blondepitaya

Our Verdict: Are Cheap Meal Replacement Shakes Best?

As with anything you choose to purchase online, there’s a million-and-one things you should check up on before you buy. In this case, it’s your nourishment and health the purchase will affect, so it’s super crucial to know exactly what you’re buying. Where possible, we’d always advise prioritising health benefits over a cheaper price.

As meal replacement shakes become more popular and society turns towards a focus on health and wellbeing, there are many buying factors to consider; including ingredients quality, ingredients type, price point and the goal which you’re looking to achieve.

As tempting as it is to save a few ££’s, do remember that there’s probably a reason why a meal replacement is cheap. Many safer ingredients come with a hefty price tag, but are far better for your long-term health and wellbeing. If it’s cheap, it was clearly cheaper to produce – which could be a red flag.

Realistically, there’s no one size fits all when it comes to meal replacement shakes (after all, we’re all different!), so you need to choose which shake right for you. Research what you can, ask for advice if you need it and settle only for a product which will give you the nutrition, nourishment and results you deserve.

Nutribuddy meal replacement shakes have the perfect balance of a reasonable price and a clean ingredient list. A 14 day supply of Nutribuddy Breakfast Shake costs £12.99 which would work out at 92p per meal. There are also options to buy larger ‘bulk’ packs. A 56 day supply costs a reasonable 67p per meal. That’s a fantastic price for a product made with organic, natural and allergen-free ingredients!

Nutribuddy Vegan Breakfast Meal Replacement Shake

Stock image credit: UnsplashPexels & Pixabay

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Nutribuddy Ltd.

Author Bio!

Post by Lex

I’m a full-time Marketing Manager and Copywriter but also a qualified yoga teacher and keen runner; so I know a thing or two about maintaining a healthy lifestyle with a good dose of fitness! My previous roles include marketing and social media for the likes of the household names including the Cabinet Office and Aviva. Outside of work, I’m a Mum, passionate social rights campaigner and bookworm.